Education is vital to every child’s development, but for some children to learn everything they need to know they need extra support or just need the teaching delivered differently.
Many children with disability can still learn to their full ability in a mainstream school setting
Support can be provided to children with disability in the classroom, school yard, during tests or exams or for transport to and from school
The options available for support at school are different between States and Territories
Children with disabilities can still thrive in mainstream public or private schooling if they are provided with the right support for their learning and this article is a basic guide to what kind of supports you might be able to arrange for your child through mainstream school.
Every child also has the right to equality in education and school providers must supply the supports your child needs to be on a level learning platform with other children.
Support in the classroom
A good starting point for arranging supports for your child’s learning is to speak to their classroom teacher.
Provide them with copies of any reports which could be important for them to understand how your child learns and make a plan about how your child’s learning needs are going to be addressed.
The plan might include elements specific to the mode of learning, such as having assessments or projects adapted for your child or setting different learning goals from the rest of the students.
It could also include arranging for school support officers (SSOs) to provide one on one learning support or to sit with your child in the classroom to assist them with certain skills like reading or mathematics.
Assistive technology can help your child to learn in the classroom in the same way as other students.
For example if your child has a hearing impairment it is common for schools to have access to a microphone placed on the teacher which can be linked to the child’s hearing aids, so even if the teacher’s back is turned toward a whiteboard the child can still hear them clearly.
Hearing aids themselves are available through Government-funded Hearing Australia until a person reaches 26 years old.
If your child has vision impairment they can access support in the form of braille or large print learning resources or orientation and mobility services.
In collaboration with your school you may also be able to arrange for non-teaching professionals such as speech therapists, psychologists and occupational therapists to deliver sessions for your child while they are at school.
If your child enjoys their school environment it could make them more comfortable with the therapy being delivered, as well as connecting to their school learning, particularly if the sessions are speech, language or behaviour related.
Some educational support is funded through the education department in your State or Territory, while some supports may need to be funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Your school or Local Area Coordinator should be able to tell you what is funded by each organisation.
Support for tests or exams
A range of adjustments can be made to the way a student is assessed so that they are given the same learning opportunities as students without disability.
These adjustments could be anything from having more time allowed during supervised tests and exams, so a student can better process questions, to having the questions read to them if they are better at processing auditory information.
Instead of a written report, part of your child’s learning plan could include that written assignments can be submitted as an artwork or diagram which better suits their preference of learning visually.
Your child may also be able to sit out tests like the NAPLAN, although this also has adjustments available for children with disability, depending on the purpose of the test and how important it is to their individual assessment.
Support in the school yard or grounds
Your child’s teacher, who is likely to know them best amongst the staff, will not always be in the school yard to supervise your child.
If supervision by the yard duty staff member is something your child needs, this might be solved by ensuring all staff know who your child is and what their needs are, so ask what the school might be able to facilitate and how that might happen.
This is a good approach if the supervision needed can be delivered from a distance - for example if your child can safely play on the playground while a teacher watches over the playground and the school oval.
In some cases you also may be able to ask for a school support officer to monitor your child more closely during break times, although this approach could make it harder for your child to interact with other children their age.
If your child has a physical disability which impacts their mobility you may need to ask the school about using a lift to access any learning areas above ground level.
As they may also need to use ramps which may not be located next to the stairs that other children use, a school tour could help your child to learn how to navigate the school grounds safely.
Check where the school’s accessible toilets are as well, to make sure your child can find them easily, and talk to them about where they might be able to go during break times.
It may be difficult for you to drive your child to school at the right time or to pick them up at the end of the school day, but State and Territory Governments fund transport to and from school for all students under certain conditions.
School transport can be in the form of a school bus for all children, an accessible bus or van for children with physical disability or an accessible taxi.
There are different arrangements in each area for what funded school transport you are eligible for and it is best to check with the school what would be available, as it may depend on your child’s needs or even how far away you live from the school.
Government, Catholic or independent
Schools can have three different types of major funding sources in Australia; Government funding, Catholic education funding or independent school funding - which includes other religion based schools and alternative education disciplines.
Funding for education supports needed by children with disability is provided by the Education Department for Government schools, while non-government schools may fund the supports themselves or through Government-backed grant programs.
When choosing which mainstream school will best suit your child’s needs it is important to consider all the schools in your area, and possibly nearby areas.
For example some may be able to provide more SSOs, your child may engage more with a school which has a focus on outdoor learning, arts and craft or practical work, or a school may even just have a bigger yard or more accessible buildings.
You can compare schools using the MySchools website under a range of different headings, but it’s also good to go on scheduled tours at your local schools and even ask if it’s possible to set up transition days to try it out.
State and Territory education department information about schooling for students with disability can be found here:
Does your child attend a mainstream school and what are the benefits/downsides? Tell us in the comments below.